rs21 members and supporters will be joining the London March for Homes tomorrow. The march is assembling in Shoreditch and Elephant and Castle, and converging on City Hall. Below is the text of the leaflet we have produced in support of the demonstration, including a handy infographic, and an excerpt from an article by Ruth Lorimer which will appear in the next issue of rs1 magazine. Come find us for a physical copy!
There is a housing crisis in Britain, and it’s going to get worse. House prices and rents keep going up, and for many finding somewhere they can afford to live is an annual struggle, that gets harder year on year. This is particularly the case in London, where rents have increased by more than double the national rate, and new house building is completely unable to match demand.
One reason for this is the decimation of council housing. In 2012 over 1.8 million households were on council waiting lists – almost twice the number in 1997. In the same period the number of local authority homes has halved – from 3.4 million to 1.7 million. Restrictions to councils borrowing for home building will come to an end in 2016, but the legacy of “Right to Buy” remains. However, for many access to social housing is a pipe dream, and they are forced to rent privately, at extortionate rates, with all sorts of hidden costs and fees. Anyone who has had to rent knows how poor this housing can be – overcrowded, damp and with little support.
Shelter is recognised as a human right, but housing is about much more than shelter. It is about access to local services, benefits and schools. It is about being recognised as an equal part of society. Being forced by rising rents to move home every year, or having a home at all, makes access to all these things harder. It also contributes to precariousness and insecurity in your wider life – what good is a job if you can’t afford to live anywhere near the workplace? It’s for these reasons that campaigns around housing and rent have to be seen as connected and complementary to struggles in the workplace. Winning a pay rise is great, but not if your landlord just claws it back down the line.
We should demand any new government introduces rent caps, taxes empty homes, and builds new social housing. But we shouldn’t wait for it. Struggles like Focus East 15 and the New Era Estate, as well as the anti-eviction community networks in Spain and Greece show what can be done, and we could all learn lessons from them.
Don’t blame migrants, build houses!
In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, Nigel Farage said there were ‘no-go areas’ for non-Muslims in Britain. This lie cannot go unchallenged. The truth is, there are no-go areas in Britain, but they are no-go areas for the poor. The government promotes “affordable” housing that’s only accessible if you earn £40,000 a year, and schemes where low-paid tenants use different entrances (“poor doors”). London’s One Hyde Park houses the most expensive apartment in the world at £135.4m – which make it also the fourth most expensive home – with its own SAS guard, bullet-proof glass, panic rooms and a secret tunnel to a nearby hotel. The rich have their gated communities, while trying to put the blame on migrants. Any effective campaign for housing needs to defend the right of access for all, including migrant communities, and those on benefits.
Housing and the Right to the City
This is an excerpt from an article by Ruth Lorimer, which will appear in the next issue of rs21 magazine.
As housing in city centres becomes more unaffordable, working class people are being forced to move further and further away from their jobs, their friends, and all the resources of city life. This can have two results – either our lives are stretched thin, as we spend all our spare time travelling between work and home, or they shrink. Research into the effects of poverty shows that people living on low incomes, especially if they are out of work, inhabit a much smaller geographical area than the wealthy. When you are poor, your world can literally shrink around you, as going anywhere or doing anything costs money you can’t afford. This has the knock on effect of limiting your social network, making you even more isolated – and all of these obstacles to social life are even harder to overcome if you live miles away from anywhere worth going.
At the same time as our access to the city is being restricted according to income, it is also under attack ideologically. The illusion that you can buy into a lifestyle that protects you from the more unpredictable elements of city life is peddled by estate agents like Redrow Homes: they recently released a (much mocked and now retracted) advert claiming that to buy one of their luxury apartments is to “stand, with the world at your feet”. The idea that you can buy yourself out of society is attractive to those who see the diversity of urban life as threatening. It is selling a myth – but property developers are doing their best to sanitise urban space to such an extent that it becomes a reality.
Cities are both the result of capitalist development and the source of the biggest threat to its continued existence, because they contain the working classes, squashed together in conditions which force them not only to work together, but to live in close proximity and rely on each other in an intricate social network. Cities have radical and revolutionary potential – so in our campaigns to defend housing, we should also make sure we don’t lose sight of the right to urban life as a whole.